The already fragile ruling coalition was further weakened yesterday (June 26) and on Thursday or Friday at the latest the unexpectedly opened political week will be sealed by the Center Party dissidents, who will announce their own list of candidates for the autumn local election.
Yesterday’s announcement of resignation of the former chairman of Pro Patria-Res Publica Union (IRL) Margus Tsahkna and chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee Marko Mihkelson was nevertheless a surprise – feared for some, expected for others. «The desertion drama of Yoko Alender and Erik-Niiles Kross was repeated,» one IRL MP said, remembering the defection of two prominent members to the Reform Party in October 2014.
Helir-Valdor Seeder, the party chairman and the leader of the top four members of the party (the other three are Sven Sester, Priit Sibul and Urmas Reinsalu) found that this will make the party stronger, but admitted that the previously 56-strong coalition can no longer rely on the votes of Tsahkna and Mihkelson. «If people have announced their leaving the party, we have to take into account that the coalition is now weaker by two members,» he said.
Considering that the Center Party can release some news concerning the principles of the party’s current leaders and the statutes – those participating in election in other lists but the party’s – the loss of some Centrist dissidents from the coalition can make Prime Minister Jüri Ratas’ life quite hard.
There have been earlier minority governments, for example those of Mart Siimann and Andrus Ansip. Should the present coalition remain in minority, it could receive support from the Free Party, provided some of their wishes are met.
Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu, who chaired IRL immediately before Tsahkna, admitted that heard about the leaving of two long-time comrades only from the media.
«A political marketing act after Midsummer Day. It is obvious what they are selling, but unclear, who the buyers are. It would be fair to tell the public about the real agenda,» said the politician, who has repeatedly been seen praying in church before elections. «But time will show, sooner or later.»
In fact, it became clear to Tsahkna as early as last November that he would not remain in that party for a long time. «My decision to leave was made in spring, but the first twitch in my soul happened in November when I noticed that there is a wall in the way and as the party chairman I cannot break it down. I could see that a party food chain as being created,» he said yesterday. His relations with Seeder had become very complicated by then.
«I have been the architect of this government and now, after the most intense time had passed and the decisions regarding next year’s state budget had been made, it was the right moment to step aside. My feelings and understandings just coincided with those of Marko,» Tsahkna said. «Our departure was not a great surprise to the party, since our relations with Seeder had been quite complicated already since November. This is why Marko and I no longer discussed, haggled or claimed anything. IRL is moving in a different direction from what I would have liked to see.»
The former IRL chairman believes that interesting time are ahead in politics. «It is not our desire to topple the government; this is certainly not the goal. But seeing what is going on in the Center Party I cannot predict anything,» he said.
Tsahkna has no intention of joining any other party, he will not stand in the local election and finds it difficult to comment on the idea of forming a new party. «When looking at all the dynamics of the European politics, no one can predict today, what will happen in 2019. There is no sense to make empty promises,» he said.
As for Mihkelson, he intends to carry on in politics and wants to remain the chairman of the parliamentary committee.
«I hope that this summer will be better than this day. I hope to gather new energy and ideas for the future during the summer,» he said, not ruling out founding a new party or joining some existing one. «Many things are changing in Estonia’s politics. But hasty moves are not the most practical ones.»
Leaving IRL became inevitable for Mihkelson due to the absence of willingness to innovate and to take risks. «I can see that IRL is not taking the path which in my opinion would lead to the future. They are concentrating on the present at best,» he stated.
Mihkelson says that he has repeatedly asked within the party why they fail to address a large share of the population, meaning the youths and women. «Why are they looking towards EKRE (the Conservative People’s Party), towards the 20th century on the issue of personal liberties? They dare not see important and necessary solutions for the future.»
Priit Sibul, secretary general of IRL, admitted that the decision of Tsahkna and Mihkelson had been surprise to him and the party leader Seeder. «For me it is a surprise primarily in the sense that these men were top leaders of the party a month and a half ago and nothing has happened in that time which would serve as ground for such decisions and conclusions,» he said.
Seeder found that the departure of Tsahkna and Mihkelson would internally consolidate the party. In his opinion the ideology of IRL had become vague and any voters no longer understood the goals of the party. «Near future will show how the coalition will carry on,» he said.
Reform Party leader Hanno Pevkur considered Tsahkna’s and Mihkelson’s move courageous. «[They are] the first men who refused to close their eyes. The values conflict within IRL had to reach some culmination sooner or later, since no serious patriot can agree with what the Center Party rule is attempting to present as the new normal. All forecasts show that the political summer will be full of thunder – the leaving of Tsahkna and Mihkelson is just the beginning. The midsummer peace in the Center Party seems to be over as well,» he predicted.
Martin Helme, chairman of the EKRE faction, believes that the departure of these two men only ushers in the disintegration of the IRL faction.
«Since conflicts within the Center Party faction are also brewing, the Center, Social Democrats and IRL coalition is moving towards minority rule,» he said. «In fact, Ratas’ government is standing only thanks to the absence of alternatives.»